Monday, August 31, 2009

The Queen of Trees

I caught this documentary on PBS last night and my mine was blown!
I love nature documentaries, but I confess that when I saw what this one was about – a type of fig tree in Kenya, Africa – it didn’t immediately intrigue me.
How exciting can a tree be, anyway?

I was soon to find out that the sycamore fig tree is the center of an incredible ecosystem that involves everything from microscopic parasites to elephants, and in between…insects, birds, monkeys, bats, fish, crocodiles, and more!

The life cycle of this amazing tree is vitally intertwined with that of the minuscule fig wasp (small enough to fly through the eye of a needle), that is its sole pollinator. This mind-boggling symbiotic relationship – mostly taking place INSIDE the fruit, is beautifully filmed using innovative techniques, not to mention plenty of patience.
A sample of this incredibly intimate filmwork can be seen here.
More behind-the-scenes info on how they achieved these amazing shots and the work that went into this production can be found here.
Beyond the jaw-dropping revelations of the wasps’ adventures, there’s the aphid-herding ant “security force” that drives off animals harmful to the tree, drunken butterflies, parasites upon parasites, sap-squirting cicadas, latex-stealing bees, hornbill birds who seal themselves into the tree’s trunk, tiny, a spiny pink mantis, a giraffe with impressively nimble tongue and monkeys munching fruit, licking sweet sap, catching inebriated butterflies and feeding the fish in the river below.
And that’s not even all of it!

This film had me captivated and awed all the way through. It made me reel in wonder at the phenomenal variety and ingenuity of life, and how complex and amazing the intertwining of different species can be.

If you happen to see it listed, I highly recommend watching!
It is also available on dvd.
A short, introductory clip can be seen here.
More info, including some videos, photographs and related articles can be found here.

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